It’s a Family Affair at These California Resorts

by Dan Giesin | March 24, 2021

When it’s time to round up the little ones and head to the ski hill, big is not necessarily better for this type of outing.

Perhaps a family-friendly resort is better suited to your needs.

These areas are small — less than 1,000 acres for the most part — so it’s easy to keep track of where family members are. They are not intimidating, generally low-key and easy-going mountains. And they usually provide other activities — snowshoeing, tubing, sledding and the like — for winter fun off the slopes.

And California, known more for its mega-mountains like Squaw, Heavenly and Mammoth, has a number of small family-style ski hills among its more than two dozen resorts.

Here are a handful of them:

Dodge Ridge

When the 16,000-square-foot base facility is called Family Lodge, you know you’re in the right place. And for the past 70-plus years, Dodge, located in the central Sierra just north of Yosemite, has been catering to families of the San Joaquin Valley and southern Bay Area.

There is a dedicated children’s learning area at the base of the 862-acre resort, and when the youngsters are ready to take on more challenge, they can sample any of Dodge Ridge’s 67 runs and 1,600-foot vertical served by 8 chairlifts and a T-bar.

Diamond Peak

Though technically not in California — it’s a few miles inside Nevada on the northeast shore of Lake Tahoe — it’s been a long-time destination for Sacramento and Bay Area families.

The biggest attraction to Diamond Peak is probably the stunning views of Big Blue to be had while exploring the resort’s 655 acres and 30 named runs. But its dedicated children’s ski center (with separate tow and slope) is pretty good alternate reason to visit the place.

And another reason? Kids 6-years-old and under ski free.

Tahoe Donner

When the folks in the fabled mountain town of Truckee vote the local hill as “the best place for families”, you know you’ve got something going for you.

With 17 runs spread out over 120 acres and 600 vertical, you’re not going to worry too much about the kids getting lost or in too much over their heads at Tahoe Donner. The base area is small and easy to navigate, and one of the two chairlifts operates solely for the learning center, which will teach children as young as 3.

Snow Valley

High up in the San Bernardino range of Southern California lies one of the Golden State’s oldest ski hills, Snow Valley, which has been in operation since 1924.

With 240 skiable acres and 1,041 feet of vertical serviced by 9 chairlifts — including a high-speed 6-pack — you can find whatever terrain you desire, but in small doses. There’s lighted night riding at Snow Valley, and even a chairlift-accessed sledding hill.

The resort won’t break the bank, either: Kids under 6 ride for free, and the Family Fun Pack (lift tickets for two adults and two children) goes for as little as $169.

Sierra at Tahoe

Located less than 100 miles from the state capital, Sierra has been a magnet for generations of Sacramento-area families.

Though big for a typical “family ski resort”, Sierra’s 2,000 acres and 2,212 of vertical is not overwhelming. A laid-back vibe permeates the place, and of the resort’s 47 trails, two are dedicated kids’ adventure zones and one is the delightful, 2.5-mile-long, top-to-base green run known as Sugar and Spice.

There’s also Blizzard Mountain — a separate tubing hill and snow play area — and 3 miles of maintained snowshoe trail on the premises for non-riding diversion.

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